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By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

2013 is over. What are the marketing lessons from that year that will help propel our efforts into the New Year?

From Jay Baer’s Youtility to Brian Solis’s What’s the Future of Business, marketing thought leaders this year have pushed marketers to create content that helps the audience and enhances the customer experience. Let’s revisit some of the year’s core lessons as 2014 blasts off.

1) Create marketing so helpful people would pay for it.

“As Gary Vaynerchuk has said, the problem with marketing today is that everybody wants to be a hunter and nobody wants to be farmer,” author Jay Baer wrote.

Youtility is really a book on how to farm. You have to change the way you think in the organization from, ‘hey, here’s coupon, buy in the next 10 minutes,’ to ‘hey, let us help you and you will connect those dots eventually and you will eventually reward us with attention, sales, loyalty, and advocacy,’ but it takes time to do that.”

Did you create helpful content and cultivate a deeper relationship with your customers this year?

2) Have real conversations, and publish them as content.

We’re seeing a resurgence people’s awareness of podcasts, which is driving an interest in podcasting. In part, as

The Invisible Sale author Tom Martin observes, this renewed interest is the result of mobile technology: it’s easier than ever to subscribe and listen to episodes, and in part because the low barriers to entry make podcasting a great alternative for marketers serving a niche audience.

Define your audience segment and go after it. Create custom content that goes deep to add real value, the way a long conversation with a mentor makes you feel energized and ready to take action.

“I believe [digital channels] extend the physical boundaries of what a true conversation could be,” explained Mitch Joel, author of Ctrl Alt Delete. “What a form of niche content can be. And I believe what we’re creating falls into that category… the depth and the analysis of it.”

In the 2013 book Born to Blog, authors Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford Smith propose that if you can have conversations — answer questions, teach a lesson, help somebody — you have the essential skills to create meaningful content.

3) Intentionally design the customer experience.

“If our customer is sharing experiences about the products that they have or that they’re using, how can we better understand them? Not just their expectations, but how can we take those and create aspirational experiences, create the experiences we want them to have and in turn to share,” asks Brian Solis in What’s the Future of Business.

Offering a great product or service isn’t enough. Offering helpful marketing content isn’t enough. Think bigger.

Map the customer journey for your audience, from first touch to purchase and beyond. How does it look? Will their online comments reflect well on your brand when they talk about that experience? If not, it’s time to make changes.

Have you really looked at the business experience through the eyes of your customers?

4) If you can go beyond being just “helpful,” you should.

Inspire people with your marketing content. Surprise and delight them.

In 2013, Jason Falls pushed marketers to create content that makes their audience exclaim “Holy Smokes!” “You want to elicit a strong emotion.” That’s “Holy Smokes,” not “hmm, that was helpful.”

Ann Handley took it a step further, and issued a challenge at Content Marketing World marketers to inspire their audience, not just “address pain points” through content.

For 2014, she encourages marketers to “give your customers a gift.” Ask yourself how you can delight them, the way Westjet delighted their passengers by granting their Christmas wishes.

How will you take some of these lessons to improve your marketing in the coming year?

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone teaches New Media Marketing at Full Sail University. She also hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast for MarketingProfs. Find Kerry on Google+ and Twitter.

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